The Power of Stillness


At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;                                                            Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,                                                                     But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,                                                                              Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,                                             Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,                                                                       There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.    -T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets

My heart has been anything but still the past several months. Even in the passing moments when I find a few hours – or even a day – of calm, it is awaiting the next urgent moment when it will have to ramp up to meet my next fear, my next challenge, my next frustration, the next bad news. The turning world has been turning much too fast. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone.

How has your heart made its way through pandemic and now, the fiery upheavals of a culture in grave distress? We are – all of us – mightily challenged to find our feet on any small plot of solid ground. Any familiar softness that can stroke our wary, weary hearts.

We can look to the past where we have found certainty and familiarity and the rules for living that guided us. Likewise, we can be easily drawn to images of a future that is beyond our comprehension. We long for solid ground. We want to control what has spiraled out of control, and we are very tempted to grab ahold of the first solution that pops up. The one thing that can slow down our crazily beating hearts.

We can so easily find ourselves demanding the One Thing that will make everything right again.

And to demand it now.

Even if we say that Love is that One Thing, how does everyone decide what love looks like, sounds like, moves like in the turning world?

Life is complex. Life is difficult. There are fewer easy answers than we want. 

There is, though, this longing that draws us into the messy thing that is life.

The longing for a steadily beating heart that lives bravely in the ever-turning world. 

When I was growing up, our family moved several times. We also spent the three summer months on a lake in northwestern Wisconsin, a two-day car ride between there and our home in Ohio. With every new year, every move, every change, I looked back at what I was leaving, and the tears rolled down my cheeks. Every place we had been was so full of joy and adventure and fun and special friends. I never could imagine that life would be that good again.

Every leaving became a still point in my turning world. Standing still, looking both backward and forward, longing and fearing all at once.

It was the dance…the swaying between letting go and grabbing ahold. 

When my beloved died unexpectedly more than six years ago, I entered that still point again. Everything was now strange and I had no idea how to let go of the past nor how to grasp the future. There was only the dance of profound grief, and I didn’t know any of the steps. The still point hung around for a very long time. And yet, there was the dance. And eventually I learned the steps and found a new solid ground.

We are, all of us, standing at the still point of a turning world in these days.

It takes great courage to stand here and wait…even just for a moment.

To stand and invite the stillness to create in us “solutions to problems that are found.”

It is so easy to get caught up in the “obvious” answers that always appear first. But history has shown that the “obvious” answers have not necessarily turned out to be the right ones. We don’t need to look far. The “obvious” COVID-19 answers have proven questionable at best; maybe wrong at worst.

There are legions of voices out there who have the “obvious” answers.

To be brave is to listen. Carefully.

To be wise is to find voices from a wide spectrum.

My father admonished me, when I was young, “You have to learn to think for yourself, Marti!” I’ve never forgotten those words. They have proven to be true time and again. Including now, at the still point of my present turning world.

So for now, I am doing a lot of standing at the still point. Listening. To many voices. Especially those who have been around for a very long time and who have seen how life has unfolded for all of us. But I’m also listening to younger voices who call us elders to see the world in fresh ways that just may be part of the new world that we all need to see.

Listening – and sifting – and quietly pondering- and learning.

We’re all learning how to dance again as the world turns. Some of us do it more easily than others. Here’s looking for that grace that shows up at just the right time to show all of us – each of us – how.

I’m okay with that.